Leave peonies, once planted, in plact to thrive

When Mildred Campbell of Keosauqua, iowa, moved from her too-large house to an apartment, she brought along her peonies. Not surprisingly, the blooms were only about one-fourth their earlier size.

Peonies resent being moved, but they will resettle after a few years.

It might have been better for Mrs. Campbell to pick off the blooms the first year so as to throw all the strength back into the plant.

Peonies are best moved or bought in September or October. Peonies like full sun, but they also will do fairly well in light shade. They also are tolerant of most soils, including heavy clay loam. However, they will not grow well in very acid soil.

Plenty of rotted manure or rich compost dug deeply into the soil before planting will pay off in the years ahead.

Many peonies fail because they are planted too deep. The tip of the buds should be only one to two inches below the surface of the soil. If yours are close to this depth, just rounding out a dishlike depression around the crown might suffice. If they are much deeper, it might be best to dig them up and replant, but I'd wait until after they bloom.

Peony plants respond well to fertilization. Hoe in compost or well-rotted manure. Add bone meal or use an all-purpose fertilizer, such as 5-10-5, at the rate of two to four tablespoons per plant. If you use other commercial fertilizers -- pellets, for example -- follow the directions on the package.

Be careful that chemicals do not come in direct contact with the foliage, especially if the foliage is wet, or it can burn.

There are many forms and varieties of peonies. The single and Japanese varieties are strikingly beautiful. Tree peonies are increasing in popularity. But the plain, old-fashioned, delightfully fragrant blooms descended from our grandmothers' gardens are no less lovely for being so common.

If you plant early, midseason, and late bloomers, you can have flowers for six weeks. The foliage and habit are attractive in the garden or in flower arrangements until frost. The dark green turns an attractive mottled gold in the fall.

Blight can spoil the foliage later in the year. Cut off and burn any part that shows signs of disease, and cut it all off just below the ground and burn it after frost as a precautionary measure.

If blight is persistent, you can spray with a fungicide according to directions.

You don't need to disbud peonies unless you want superlarge blossoms for a show. The ants aren't usually harmful, either, unless they drop on your dining-room table. When cutting blooms for the house, leave two or three leaves on each stem to strenthen the plants, and don't let anyone mow the foliage off. The foliage is needed to make the next year's blooms.

Peonies are among the showiest, hardiest, and easiest to grow of all perennial plants.

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